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Hollywood Golf Club Ready For Its Close Up

Courtesy of Stephen Eedelson
Asbury Park Press

OCEAN TOWNSHIP — Hollywood Golf Club has long been considered among the finest layouts in a New Jersey, which is saying something in a state where major championship venues abound.

But when top players from throughout the Garden State descend on Hollywood next week for the 91st New Jersey State Golf Association Open Championship, the course they’ll encounter might be playing as difficult as it ever has.

The 7,040-yard, par-71 test, restored by Rees Jones in 1998, will play closer to what it was originally designed to play like when Walter Travis finished his work in 1917 thanks to some extensive tree removal in recent years, along with a master plan to have the fairways and greens playing faster and firmer.

“I think what the competitors are going to find is a course that will have a look and feel of what the architects had intended it to be,” said head pro Kevin Weyeneth.

In his second season at Hollywood, superintendent Michael Broome knows a little something about championship setups.

He was at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., in 2007 when he helped prepare the course for the PGA Championship, and was at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pa., two years ago for the U.S. Women’s Open.

And it’s not just the playing areas that have changed. Making your way down the third fairway, the native grasses that have been allowed to grow in certain areas around the course quickly become evident. While most of the areas won’t have an impact on play itself, the tall, brown grass provides a rather dramatic look,

“It gives you good contrast, which is what we’re going for, to break up the landscape,” Broome noted.

At Hollywood, the course itself has always been the main attraction.

As you traverse the land you see things you won’t see anywhere else in the world thanks to Travis. There’s the “volcano” bunker, with a sand trap nestled on top of a large mound down the left side of the 16th hole, a 477-yard, uphill par 4.

Then there’s the bunkering on the par-3 fourth hole, where the traps guarding the front of either side of the elevated putting surface are set into the face of a pair of large mounds. It’s both a dramatic look and a diabolical obstacle, with a false front in front of the green catching any shot that comes up short.

We’ve been working with a Rees Jones designer to rework the front of the fourth green,” said Broome. “Before, shots that were short would roll back down the hill and all come to rest in the same spot. Now it will throw the ball left or kick it into the rough, and a handful will actually stay up there and give you and opportunity to putt.”

In addition to the tree removal, the new XGD green drainage system, where drainage is installed in lines six feet apart under the greens, will allow more cutting and rolling of the surfaces. Seven of the greens have already had it installed, with plans to do the remainder.

“Since Hollywood last hosted the Open in 2006, and from players’ standpoint, the biggest difference will be the course playing firmer and faster,” Weyeneth noted. “We’re able to do that because of the new drainage system, aggressive top dressing of both the fairways and greens, along with the tree removal.”

It also brings the wind, part of Travis’ original thinking when designing holes, back into play.

“Standing over a shot in the 14th fairway, you can feel the wind, whereas it used to be engulfed by trees,” Weyeneth noted. “It’s the same on the green. You can feel the wind as you’re standing over a putt now because it you’re more exposed now. So when you have a three-foot putt with break in it, you feel that wind and it makes it harder.”

Five years ago, Deal head pro Jason Lamp won the state Open at Hollywood with a 3-under-par total of 210 for 54 holes.

It’s never easy being a host professional, with making sure everything is running smoothly often taking away from your overall focus. Weyeneth, who won the state PGA’s Match Play Championship this spring, feels there are other factors working against him as well.

“The hard part for me, and I found this out in 2006, is that you know the golf course form playing it daily under normal conditions,” he said. “But in the tournament, a putt that’s normally right edge, you’re thinking ‘Is it three inches off the edge because they’re quicker?’ You start thinking more instead of just hitting it.”

According to a source at the United States Golf Association, Hollywood is in line to host the 2014 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, which would make it the first Shore area course to host a USGA event since Hominy Hill in Colts Neck was the site of the 1995 U.S. Women’s Public Links Championship.